Curating the Beatles

Monday, June 11: 1 p.m.
Posted by Jim Henke
The Beatles at Shea Stadium on August 23, 1966 original concert poster

the Beatles exhibit at the rock and roll hall of fame and museum in ClevelandThe Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is very fortunate to have what is most likely the finest, most extensive Beatles exhibit anywhere in the world. That exhibit is the result of relationships we have built over the years. I have been the chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland since 1994, before the Museum opened, and one of the first people I contacted when I got the job was Yoko Ono.

Prior to joining the Museum, I was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine, where I had interviewed Yoko. In addition, Jann Wenner, the editor and publisher of Rolling Stone and one of the founders of the Hall of Fame, was friends with Yoko and John Lennon. Having made those connections, I first arranged to meet Yoko at her apartment at the Dakota in New York City in 1994. Much to my surprise, she had an enormous amount of material related to her late husband John, going back to things like his school report cards and a swimming certificate. She also had many of his handwritten lyric manuscripts, guitars, clothing and other personal effects. Yoko agreed to loan the Museum several of these things, and it was the first major collection I secured for the Museum. In those earliest days of the Museum, the John Lennon collection often helped sway artists to make a generous loan or donation to help expand our growing collection.

George Harrison Rickenbacker electric guitarOver the years, Yoko has remained a great friend to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Back in 2000, she reached out with a reminder that John would have been 60 years old that year. She suggested that we do a major exhibit on his life and music. Working with Yoko, we were able to put together an expansive exhibit that opened in October 2000 and ran until January 2003.

In 2005, I was contacted by a representative of Olivia Harrison, George Harrison’s widow. It turned out that they were issuing the Concert for Bangladesh on DVD and thought we might like to do an exhibit about it. Once again, working directly with the Harrison estate, we did a small exhibit about Bangladesh.

Virtually since day one, the Museum always had an exhibit related to the Beatles. However, it was always dominated by the Lennon items. About two years ago, we started working on a re-design of the Museum’s galleries. As part of that re-design, we decided to greatly enhance our Beatles exhibit, adding more permanent cases, as well as audio and video. The timing seemed right to reach out to the Beatles contacts I'd made over the years and see what we could do to improve the exhibit. 

Sure enough, Mrs. Harrison was generous and loaned us a suit Harrison wore on the Beatles’ 1966 U.S. tour and a jacket that he wore at the world premiere of Yellow Submarine. I also reached out to a friend of mine who had done some work with Ringo Starr. With her help, Ringo loaned us a raincoat that he wore when the Beatles performed “Get Back” on the roof of Apple Records in 1969. He also loaned the Museum another jacket, one that he wore in a promo film the Beatles did for the single “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

We've also enlisted the support of various collectors and people who had relationships with the Beatles, and the result is an amazing exhibit about one of the most important bands in the history of rock and roll. The exhibit is more or less organized chronologically, starting with some of the John Lennon childhood items and some of the earliest handbills and posters advertising shows by the Beatles back in 1961. It goes through the band’s entire career and includes the dissolution papers that the Beatles signed in 1974, ending their partnership. It also includes some items from Lennon’s solo career. Whether it’s Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper uniform, handwritten lyrics to "In My Life" or one of the guitars, such as Harrison's 1962 Rickenbacker 425 (pictured) or Lennon's 1963 Gretsch 6120, the exhibit is filled with treasures from the Fab Four.

This weekend, from June 15-17, we will be celebrating the Beatles during our Magical Mystery Weekend. I will be talking about the exhibit, and we will also be screening the new digitally re-mastered Yellow Submarine film. We will also be hosting Beatles tribute band 1964, and we will have other Beatles-related events. Click here for more information and learn why this weekend is an especially good time for Beatles fans to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

the Beatles exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland



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